hobby lobby

The president of Gordon College in Massachusetts unwittingly set off a series of backlashes against the evangelical school when he signed a letter to the White House asking for religious exemptions from proposed sexual-orientation antidiscrimination rules on federal contracting.

After losing a city contract and drawing scrutiny from its accrediting body, Gordon has rushed out a “Learn the Facts” page “about the issues and about Gordon, to offer context and clarification wherever possible, and to foster constructive dialogue as a College community, as neighbors, and as fellow citizens.”

The page includes a letter from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, one of two bodies that accredits Gordon, promising its accreditation isn’t at risk, as many took the body’s investigation to imply.

accreditation.neasc.screenshotA Sunday letter to the college community from the chairman of Gordon’s board of trustees said the “essence and ethos of Gordon has been maligned” and that it simply wanted the freedom to continue to “hire for mission”:

Over the coming weeks, President Lindsay and the Cabinet will be meeting with different Gordon constituencies to discuss some of the concerns that have been raised. … We intend to dedicate a portion of our meeting time over the next year to explore further how we can address some of the complexities surrounding the intersection of individual rights and community expectations.

DMichaelLindsay.GordonCollege.WMCGordon’s plight also drew coverage from The Wall Street Journal, with University of Pennsylvania law professor David Skeel calling it “the next religious liberty case” following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby:

Mr. Lindsay and Gordon College are unlikely magnets for the attention. A highly respected sociologist who made his reputation studying America’s business and cultural leaders and running an institute at Rice University, Mr. Lindsay likely travels in some of the same circles as [President Obama] himself. In his three years as Gordon’s president, Mr. Lindsay has steered clear of hot-button issues. …

An executive order that did not include a religious exemption might be upheld by the courts, since the government has broad powers when it comes to spending. But it would be a sharp break from political precedent. In 2002 President Bush signed an executive order decreeing that faith-based organizations be permitted to “participate fully in the social service programs supported with Federal financial assistance without impairing their independence, autonomy, expression, or religious character.” The Employment Non-Discrimination Act itself, as passed in the Senate before stalling in the House, also included an explicit exemption for religion.

Read more of Gordon’s response here, and the whole Journal article here.

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IMAGE: Gordon College


The Supreme Court on Thursday gave Wheaton College the injunction it wanted against the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.

But it’s not now deciding the broader question of whether Wheaton must follow the Obama administration’s so-called accommodation for religious nonprofits.

In the court’s dense legalese:

If the applicant informs the Secretary of Health and Human Services in writing that it is a non-profit organization that holds itself out as religious and has religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services, the respondents are enjoined from enforcing against the applicant the challenged provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and related regulations pending final disposition of appellate review. To meet the condition for injunction pending appeal, the applicant need not use the form prescribed by the Government, EBSA Form 700, and need not send copies to health insurance issuers or third-party administrators.

The Associated Press translates that:

The court said it was not ultimately deciding the issue Thursday and noted that it is likely to take up the nonprofits’ cases at some point.

For now, though, it said in an unsigned opinion that the letter to [the Department of Health & Human Services] is sufficient and that the government can rely on the letter to ensure that women covered by Wheaton’s insurance can obtain emergency contraception at no cost.

See our previous coverage about Wheaton’s “community covenant” and the Justice Department’s claim that the Hobby Lobby decision actually goes against what religious colleges are asking for.

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The Department of Justice’s “accommodation” for religious colleges and other nonprofits who seek to avoid the contraceptive mandate – the basis of its argument to the Supreme Court to not extend the Hobby Lobby decision to evangelical Wheaton College – runs aground on Wheaton’s own “community covenant” document.

That’s according to veteran religion journalist Terry Mattingly, who directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

He writes on his Get Religion blog that the Wheaton covenant requires members of the community to

“uphold chastity among the unmarried (1 Cor. 6:18) and the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman (Heb. 13:4).” …

Must the college cooperate in offering its students and unmarried employees — in violation of its own doctrines — all FDA-approved forms of contraception, sterilizations and even “morning-after pills”? …

The groups in this second, doctrinally defined ministry category are, in effect, asking that the government allow their voluntary associations to defend their own teachings when dealing with members of their own communities.

The issue boils down to whether religious institutions like Wheaton have to “encourage” behavior that violates their beliefs, Mattingly says, quoting a Christianity Today report:

Some cases ask for broader exceptions than Hobby Lobby and Conestoga did. For instance, the court document granting an injunction to the Catholic Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) notes that “The Network refuses to provide, subsidize, or support health insurance that in any way encourages the use of artificial contraception, sterilization, or abortion, all of which it considers ‘grave sin.’”

Read the whole blog post here.

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IMAGE: RoRi630/Wikimedia Commons

The Department of Justice is trying to stop the religious-freedom logic of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby contraceptive-mandate case from spreading to religious colleges and other nonprofits seeking the same exemption.

The Associated Press reports that DOJ asked the Supreme Court Wednesday to turn down Wheaton Colleges’s request to get itself out of any complicity in the provision of “objectionable contraception”:

The issue in the lawsuits filed by Wheaton and other nonprofit groups is different because the administration already has allowed them to opt out of paying for the objectionable contraception by telling the government that doing so would violate their religious beliefs.

But they must fill out Form 700 that enables their insurers or third-party administrators to take on the responsibility of paying for the birth control. The employer does not have to arrange the coverage or pay for it. Insurers get reimbursed by the government through credits against fees owed under other provisions of the health care law.

The fight is over completing the form, which the nonprofits say violates their religious beliefs because it forces them to participate in a system to subsidize and distribute the contraception. …

“The decision in Hobby Lobby rested on the premise that these accommodations ‘achieve all of the Government’s aims’ underlying the preventive-health services coverage requirement ‘while providing greater respect for religious liberty,'” the Justice Department said, quoting from Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion.

Read the full article here.

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IMAGE: Department of Justice

Slew of lower-court cases on hold pending Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby

Backers of religious freedom for Christian universities cheered the Supreme Court’s ruling Monday that “closely held for-profit corporations” like Hobby Lobby can claim a religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s so-called contraceptive mandate.

While the ruling does not guarantee a victory in the lower courts for universities challenging the mandate on religious grounds, religious freedom proponents are hopeful the courts will rule in favor of the universities.

Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the federal government can “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” only when there is a “compelling government interest” and it is the “least restrictive means” of achieving the government’s purpose.

Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that providing contraception can be in the government’s interest, but forcing businesses to provide it “plainly fails” the least-restrictive-means test.

Injunctions Now, Vindication Soon?

Because the court ruled the federal government has other ways of providing contraception without requiring businesses to pay for them, religious universities may also qualify for that exemption.

Six of the schools represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty – which also represented Hobby Lobby – have been granted injunctions against the mandate, including Union University, Colorado Christian University and Houston Baptist University.

Colorado Christian was the most recent plaintiff to prevail. A federal judge in Denver issued an injunction in late June, saying the mandate violated RFRA.

religiousfreedom.AmericanLifeLeague.FlickrMany federal courts were waiting to rule on challenges to the mandate until after the Supreme Court ruled.  For example, the College of the Ozarks and Belmont Abbey College both have pending cases in courts waiting to hear from the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said in a press release he was meeting with the other plaintiff in the case, Mennonite-owned Conestoga Wood Specialties, when the Supreme Court ruling was announced.

“While we celebrate this landmark decision, it is our hope that lower courts will follow the Supreme Court’s lead and protect non-profits like Little Sisters of the Poor, Priests for Life, and Wheaton College” from the mandate, Perkins said.

Wheaton lost its anti-mandate argument in federal appeals court in 2012 on the grounds that the government had promised not to enforce the rule until it devised a final accommodation for religious schools like the evangelical Wheaton.

A spokeswoman for the College of the Ozarks told The College Fix the ruling would help it continue its Christian mission in education.

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities released a statement asking the government to reconsider the regulations in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling and “craft new regulations that fully respect the religious convictions of CCCU institutions.”

‘Significant Game-Changer’

Jonathan Turley, a constitutional expert and law professor at Georgetown, told CNN the ruling was a “significant game-changer” and “huge blow” to the administration.

“This has been an awful 10 days,” with the high court striking down federal programs relating to the Fourth Amendment and warrantless cellphone searches, separation of powers regarding federal appointments, and now the First Amendment religion clause, Turley said. “You just don’t want to get out of bed after a week like that. 

The ruling left open some ambiguities to be sorted out in later court cases, such as what “closely held” means.

Paul Horwitz, who teaches constitutional and religion law at the University of Alabama, told WVTM Birmingham that since the ruling involves the RFRA statute and not the First Amendment directly, it may not help other entities get exemptions from parts of the Affordable Care Act.

“This case gave an answer for one dispute. But that’s all it could possible [sic] do and we can expect some form of this controversy to continue,” Horwitz said.

Brittney Cooper, a professor of women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University, disagreed with the ruling. “No words, other than those of the four-letter variety, for the #scotus right now,” she wrote on Twitter.

College Fix contributor Matt Lamb is a student at Loyola University-Chicago.

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IMAGES: American Life League/Flickr

In a blow to opponents of Obamacare, the Supreme Court has refused to hear a case brought by Liberty University, challenging the “contraception mandate” and employer coverage mandate under the new law.

Fox News reports:

Liberty made several arguments in challenging the portion of the health care law that requires most employers to provide health insurance to their workers or pay a fine. The 4th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Richmond, Va., rejected those claims.

With the high court’s decision, that ruling remains in place.

The Supreme Court’s decision comes more than a year after it had ordered the federal appeals court to reconsider Liberty University’s claims that the law violates the school’s religious freedoms…

Read more.